Saturday, September 25, 2010

Visiting the Queen

Backside of the Palace.

Maps of London include a large splash of green which is invisible for 10 months of every year.  The green is enclosed by barbed-wire topped, 10-foot fences which enclave its contents between Hyde, Green, and St. James's Parks.  

This bit green is, of course, the gardens for Buckingham Palace. While the Queen is away on holiday at her private castle in Scotland, Balmoral, during August and September, her palatial home in London is opened for public viewing.

I paid 17 pounds to see the State Rooms and these gardens, and it was worth every penny.

The grandeur of the palace was beyond what I could have imagined or have encountered before in all  the palaces, estates, and government buildings I have toured.  The palace was created from an expanded version of Buckingham House by King George IV (Queen Victoria's childless uncle) beginning in 1826, and was first used as a royal palace by the young Victoria, three weeks after her coronation in 1837.

She added several rooms in 1850, and the front wing which enclosed the then-open courtyard (at which point Marble Arch, which served as the front arch to the palace gate, was moved to where it stands today on Oxford Street) was built in 1913.

Now there are 775 rooms, including a hung art gallery full of the old masters, a throne room with the coronation chairs for each monarch dating back to Victoria (these chairs are used during the ceremony when they are not seated in the coronation chair in which fits the stone of scone at Westminster Abbey), a massive ballroom, a music room where the royal babies are christened, a statue gallery, a swimming pool, and dozens of rooms for guests and offices of the royal staff.

Although the rooms and gardens were stunning, what impressed me most was 1) the role of religion, and 2) the role of French culture in the palace halls.  Regarding the first, I am often reminded that a large difference between my home country and this adopted country is the role that religion plays in official business.  Anglican services or Christian themes are incorporated into royal functions, such as Remembrance Day (their version of the American Veteran's Day, a much bigger and better deal) and the Queen's Christmas message (that she can call Christmas Christmas and make a big deal of it is somewhat of a shock to this American).  This is due, of course, to the fact that the English Church has never been dis-established.  It is still the official, and publicly-funded, church of England.  Our dissestablishment occurred in 1776 by declaring independence (the Anglican bishops fled to England), and perpetuated by the First Amendment, ratified as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791.

As to the second, I smiled to know that the menu at state dinners are in French (apparently the classical  language of food), the art and decorative style was admittedly French (especially the mantle clocks), and Napolean's porcelain table was a centerpiece of the grand tour.  I can't decide if the English as epitomized by their royals love to hate the French, or hate to love them...

Even the hot chocolate is royal.
The hidden gardens.

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